Strict public health measures during holidays likely saved lives in Michigan, U-M researchers say

January 28, 2021
Written By:
Nardy Baeza Bickel

Increased social distance measures over Thanksgiving and Christmas following the Pause to Save Lives might have prevented more than 100,000 coronavirus cases in Michigan—potentially avoiding thousands of deaths during the holiday season, according to preliminary findings by the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“Our modeling suggests that the state’s social distancing measures, although challenging for Michiganders, prevented illness and deaths, providing some relief to our already stretched health care system,” said associate professor Marisa Eisenberg, who has been working with the state of Michigan since the beginning of the pandemic to provide data analysis and modeling related to COVID-19.

Using U-M COVID-19 modeling data, as well as data from the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, Oxford Coronavirus Government Response Tracker and Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus database, researchers compared coronavirus cases and public health measures following the Nov. 15 “Pause to Save Lives” mandate.

The modeling showed that between Nov. 15 and Jan. 8, about 109,000 cases were prevented. Considering the case fatality rate from Nov. 15 to the end of the year—which was lower than that of the overall fatality rate since the pandemic began—about 2,000 deaths were prevented, Eisenberg said. Based on Michigan’s rate of fatality of 2.6% since March 2020, that translates to 2,800 lives saved since the pandemic began.

The researchers also looked at how government response measures—including closures, economic supports and public health efforts—impacted cases. They found that states with higher average “government response index” did better at containing the spread of the virus.

Michigan had the lowest cases count among Midwestern states over the holiday season. Indiana, which had the lowest government response index, had the highest.

“Michiganders have been doing their part in terms of maintaining social distancing and staying home, and those efforts have prevented illnesses and deaths across the state,” Eisenberg said.

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